Have you ever thought about the devil in Bible prophecy? When we look at the book of Revelation, we see some of Satan’s main objectives and motivations. And we learn not only of his hatred of mankind leading to future deception and coming wrath, but that these are not just in the future—off in the distance. They impact you even today.
Let’s start with the opening of Revelation 12: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth” (verses 1-2). A dragon soon appears, intent on devouring the child at its birth (verses 3-4). The dragon is revealed to be Satan the devil (verse 9).
As with the rest of the book, the fantastical and symbolic imagery tells an important story. In examining some of the symbolism, we can recognize Satan’s influence not only in the future, but today as well.
The devil’s war against God and His followers
The child here was to rule all nations and was caught up to heaven (verse 5), a reference to Jesus Christ, who ascended to heaven following His resurrection. So the woman on one level was His mother Mary giving birth to Him.
But there’s more to the story. It’s also a picture of Israel. In a prophetic dream in Genesis 37, Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob or Israel, saw the sun, moon and 11 stars bowing before him, representing his parents and 11 brothers being under his authority. This actually happened after the pharaoh in Egypt placed him in charge of running the country. But note the symbol of 11 stars for 11 brothers and another for Joseph. The 12 stars came to signify the tribes descended from these brothers—the 12 tribes of Israel.
But the woman in Revelation 12 symbolizes more than just Joseph’s family. The son chosen to be the light of the world represents not only Christ but God’s other children as well, given the later mention of other offspring (see verse 17). The symbolism of the woman here includes not only Mary as a representative mother among the nation of Israel, but also the collective body of the spiritual Israel of God—the one true Church made up of all Christ’s followers (see Galatians 6:16; compare Romans 2:29).
The mention of the dragon ready to devour the child at its birth recalls what happened when Jesus was born, with Satan launching a war against Him. As we see in the next chapter, Satan was the power behind the Roman Empire. And he used the Roman-appointed king over the Jewish nation, Herod, who wanted to eliminate any potential threat to his throne, to try to undermine God’s plan.
Matthew 2 says that when Herod learned of the Messiah’s recent birth in Bethlehem, he had all the children there and in surrounding areas under 2 years old put to death. Yet God wasn’t about to allow the Messiah to be killed at this time. He helped Jesus, Mary and Joseph escape to Egypt until Herod died.
And just as Satan was prevented from destroying Christ at that time, he’s going to be prevented from destroying this woman in Revelation 12. Her story continues in the account here after Christ’s ascension to heaven. We see her fleeing into the wilderness (verse 6). The picture going forward in Revelation 12 is of the Church as a whole taking refuge where it has a place prepared of God.
Satan will persecute God’s people
God protects His people from Satan, but that’s not the end of the story. Satan is not going to give up. He’s relentless in bringing persecution against the Church. He wants to demolish God’s plan. He wants to do away with any chance God would succeed. And so he’s going to try to kill God’s people at the end.
He’s going to wage all-out war against God, against His angels and against humanity as well. Revelation 12:7 says, “War broke out in heaven.” This is a future event, yet described in past tense in the prophetic perspective of Revelation, with God calling “those things which do not [yet] exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17; compare Isaiah 46:10).
What’s the outcome? “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:9). That’s describing a time soon ahead of us—shortly before Christ returns to earth!
Verse 12 says: “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (emphasis added throughout). When Satan loses that battle with God’s angels, He will turn and direct his rage at the people of God, symbolized by the woman and her offspring (verse 13).
Again, this refers primarily to the Church of God and its members, though Satan will also bring severe tribulation among the people of national Israel as well. That the Church is intended is plain from verse 17, as it specifies that the woman’s offspring targeted by the dragon are those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus. And note that these are not just those labeled Christians, but those who believe in and obey God’s commandments.
Jesus had earlier warned His followers: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). Some of God’s people will survive this persecution, while others will be martyred. Yet how could today’s world become a place where true Christians are hunted down and killed?
Satan’s empire leads the world into false worship
Revelation 13 adds more to the story. Here we see a beast rising up out of the sea with seven heads and 10 crowned horns and bearing a blasphemous name. It’s described as a mixture of wild animals, but it wields power and control (compare the succession of kingdoms in Daniel 7). So it’s not talking about animals; it’s talking about government. It’s talking about the geopolitical powerhouse of the Roman Empire and a series of revivals culminating in a final resurrection of a new geopolitical leader and power that will control the world in the end time. (To learn more, download or request our free study guide The Final Superpower.)
We’re further told that “the dragon [Satan] gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” (Revelation 13:2), explaining why the heads and horns emerge from the devil in the previous chapter (12:3). The world is shown bowing to the empire’s dominion: “All the world marveled and followed the beast . . . saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’ . . . And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (13:3-4, 7).
The Beast here is a term for both the imperial power and the human being set in charge of it—a dictatorial leader operating under Satan’s authority. And the devil is going to use this as a principal weapon against Jesus Christ and to conduct war against the people of God.
What’s Satan’s purpose in this? We see the world here being seduced into worshiping the Beast as well as the one who ultimately empowers it, the devil (verses 4, 8). That’s a key to his motivation—redirecting people’s worship. He’ll give this coming dictator the power to transform things to look like they’re good, like they’re wonderful, to gain trust and devotion so as to promote false ideology. Working in tandem with political and military power will be a religious crusade to bring the world under united worship.
A powerful end-time false religious leader
A little farther on in chapter 13 we see a second beast described: “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon,” this one causing people “to worship the first beast” (verses 11-12). So who or what is this second beast? We see here a tool of Satan, outwardly Christian in appearance, using position and authority to influence mankind to worship the political leader and his government.
Through what appear to be supernatural displays he will persuade the masses into accepting false religious teachings: “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth . . . and [will] cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (verses 13-15).
Might this powerful religious leader’s apparent miracles be due in part to the use of such computer advances as artificial intelligence and other technological trickery? We don’t know, but supernatural forces are definitely involved, since the apostle Paul tells us his arrival is “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
Paul also calls him “the lawless one” (verse 8). He is referred to later in the book of Revelation as the False Prophet (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10), who heads up a great false religious system (see Revelation 17).
Why will people fall for these deceptions? Paul gives us the answer: “Because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
Do you love the truth? Do you know the truth? We have to ask ourselves, Do I really follow the truth Jesus Christ Himself taught? What it comes down to is a war on your mind, on your thinking, on your loyalties. Will you give in, or will you believe God’s Word and follow Christ?
Take it seriously, and take action now
Could this global-scale worship of rulers and martyrdom of Christians really happen today? Emperor worship is something we last saw long ago in the Roman Empire, right? Actually it wasn’t that long ago—just go back to World War II. The Japanese people were required to worship their emperor as a god. And obeisance to Hitler was practically worship. Through the decades we’ve seen false religious leaders deceiving their own disciples into impoverishing and even killing themselves. So history shows it’s possible, and we need to recognize that society is run behind the scenes by Satan and his demons.
Besides the fervor of true belief, there will also be powerful coercion. Those who don’t fall in line with the system will face penalties in commercial business restriction. Verse 17 says no one may buy or sell except the one who has the mark or the name of the beast or the number of his name.
Temptation to comply will be great. But we must heed the warning in the next chapter: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand [symbolic of mind and actions], he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:9-10).
And yet to the very end, Satan is going to pursue those who won’t go along with his system—those who serve and obey God. Who are those people? As we’ve already seen, the book of Revelation makes it plain. These are commandment-keeping Christians. These are people who follow Jesus Christ and His actual teachings in Scripture instead of following the false system of the Beast and False Prophet.
Go to the end of the book where it says, “Blessed are those who do His commandments” (Revelation 22:14). So many churches today teach that God’s commandments are done away. Yet here at the very end of Scripture we find praise and blessing for true, commandment-keeping Christians. These are those who love God, who love Jesus Christ, who follow His teachings, who obey God, who like Christ keep the seventh-day Sabbath.
These are the ones Satan attacks. Yet these are also the ones who have every reason to be confident in the outcome.
While Satan’s kingdom is founded on an outward form of godliness, it is filled with lies. Sadly, most people don’t realize that religion has consistently embraced ungodly false traditions beginning in ancient times to do away with the commandments of God.
So these chapters of Revelation are not just prophetic of the future. They concern what’s been ongoing. The lawless corruption described has influenced the Christian religion. Wayward teachers substituted the day of the sun, Sunday, originally dedicated by the pagans to worshiping the sun god, in place of the biblical Sabbath day.
And so it is with various traditions of Christianity today, like celebrating Christmas, derived from ancient traditions celebrating the winter solstice.
Jesus warned against adopting man-made practices in place of what God commands: “‘And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’ . . . ‘All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition’” (Mark 7:7, 9).
And this does not even begin to get into how a number of supposed Christian denominations today have undertaken major changes to fundamental biblical teachings like its condemnation of same-sex relationships, its portrayal of God the Father and Jesus Christ, the divine pattern of marriage and family, and the authority of the Bible as God’s inspired Word.
Will you take heed?
The events foretold in Revelation will affect you and your family, and they’re in the works right now. So what will you do?
Never underestimate Satan’s ability to deceive and corrupt. Don’t fall for his delusions. Get rid of unbiblical practices as you find them in your life. We know Satan goes to church, that he’s subverted Christianity, and he wants to further control the message and you as well. In the future, he’ll empower the Beast against God’s people.
But there is hope! We’re told in James 4:7-8: “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” We pray you choose to dedicate yourself to discovering the true worship of the true God!